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NATO and the Russians: Can NATO be Diplomatically Relevant?

Dr. Matthew Crosston



One of the biggest obstacles in understanding Russian foreign policy of late for NATO is that it still seems a bit too tied to American assumptions. There seems to be an element of purposeful animosity in the way Russia is viewed, analyzed, and engaged, especially at the so-called expert level and most prominently within the now Republican-controlled United States Congress.

Perhaps one of the worst examples of this ‘analytical animosity’ comes with the over-reliance on ‘insider knowledge’ without actually vetting the source’s objectivity. As we will see below, what would be automatically deemed a horribly flawed research structure in academia, full of selection bias, too often ends up powering the opinions of major decision-makers in Washington DC and is subsequently transferred to NATO thinking.

None of this is meant to say NATO, or the United States in turn, shouldn’t be critical of Russian motivations or Russian interests. In many areas we are naturally pure rivals, let alone the long intense history of competition between them. I am simply critical of the foreign policy hubris America so often exhibits and ultimately passes on to NATO. I offer this not as a plea for diplomatic humility or being a better global partner: on the contrary, I simply fear the presumptuousness of NATO posturing comes off in such a way that makes NATO look silly rather than intimidating. That is the real problem. Talking the talk without ever walking the walk with Russia serves no purpose other than to undermine your own self-perception of impressiveness. To wit: western commentators need to stop crowing about ‘Russian exceptionalism.’ There is a humiliating irony being dangerously missed when they speak of such things. To the Russians the only other country in the world with a richer, deeper, and more pronounced sense of exceptionalism is the United States and its affiliated organizations like NATO. American sides criticizing Russia for exceptionalism is like the Great White telling the Bull Shark not to be so aggressive in the water.

I believe this is part of the reason you can detect such frustration and irritation in the statements and positions of Putin and Lavrov, who sometimes almost seem exasperated by the situation, fighting off a narrative they really aren’t interested in but are constantly being asked on the world stage to address. This is especially apparent when the ridiculous subject of Ukraine joining NATO comes up. Lavrov stated during the Welsh summit that NATO should avoid ‘derailing’ the process both Russia and Ukraine are trying to hammer out. Worse still is how incredibly cruel this line of argument is from NATO towards Ukraine: there is no chance that Ukraine will be invited to join the group. While Obama says officially to the microphones that all options will remain open for global security and peace, France and Germany are both formally opposed to offering membership to Ukraine. As long as that is the case, Obama’s comments are just empty gestures, more a tease to Ukraine than a deterrent to Russia. Does anyone in their right mind think Russia worries more about microphone side comments from the American President compared to official French and German policy when it concerns NATO?

Russia’s actions within, around, and about Ukraine are no doubt self-serving, in pursuit of its own priorities, and with only a modicum of consideration as to what is in the long-term interests of Ukraine. More pertinently, it couches those actions with declarations of constitutionality, stability, normalization, and international assistance. And in doing so Russia, in its own mind and with some foreign policy evidence, thinks it is acting as the United States has countless times in countless arenas over countless years, thereby making any NATO concern or protest over its actions irrelevant and hypocritical in its eyes. This is the true nature of REAL foreign policy power to Russia: to do as you please while getting everyone else to drag their feet and ultimately do nothing. Such old-school realist POWER has not left the global stage, despite all the good NATO intentions to create greater adherence to international law.

Perhaps NATO’s best strategy would be to deftly engineer a path not beholden to American ‘Cold War Triumphalism.’ In basic terms, since Russia lost the Cold War it was and should be treated as a de facto defeated nation. This triumphalism has arguably never left American decision-making power, given that the advent of this attitude began with President Bill Clinton and has lasted through three presidencies (two Democrat, one Republican), totaling six terms and 24 years. In other words, the American attitudinal perspective toward Russia has witnessed a literal generation passing where the United States has felt justified in selective cooperation, one-way bargaining, uneven playing fields and reluctance on its own part to bury the ghosts of the past because said ghosts give it a decided political advantage. But that political advantage hurts NATO relevance if it is made to adhere to the same attitude. It is clear the United States does not seem to understand that the geostrategic prom queen in the end isn’t really a queen, after all, and on the global dance floor there is always more than one self-professed belle of the ball. NATO needs to be the emcee of this dance, rather than the man stuck holding the American prom queen’s corsage. The former role gives it great relevance. The latter gives it none. The choice, hopefully, will be up to NATO.

The real problem NATO must try to avoid is that too many powerful decision-makers in the West feel a bit bamboozled and outplayed. They feel, rightly or wrongly, as if they have ended up with proverbial diplomatic egg on their faces and they don’t like it. Even worse, they cannot stand the possibility that this game of chicken ended with only one round and no opportunity to regain the upper hand. Thus, it really isn’t about how horrible it was for Russia to ‘annex’ Crimea (with Crimean consent) and do it basically without any violence. What is most horrible to these strategists still stuck in and/or pining for the return of a Cold War environment full of purpose and dire circumstances is that they won’t get the chance to beat Russia back or deliver a diplomatic defeat of the same intensity that they feel they just themselves received. Thus, this situation cannot just be about Crimea. Russia must not be satisfied with this as the end game. There simply must be another shoe to drop or chess piece to be moved. Because…just because: because Russians aren’t supposed to be diplomatically agile and astute. And they most certainly cannot be strategically deft and subtle. At least, not when they are compared to their counterparts in the West, who think Russians are rash; Russians are emotional; Russians are capricious; Russians are sneaky; and quite frankly, Russians are a bit daft. All of these things they can be because all of these things suit the players at the other end of the chess board. And for this very simple and seemingly minor reason alone, Russia is far better off letting Crimea be its one and only move on the board and then chuckle dementedly as its rivals worry about an ‘expansionism’ that is not coming. What victory could be better than checkmate and confounding your opponents who had previously thought they had completely understood your psyche, methods, objectives, and purpose?

If NATO can begin to engage Russia in a manner that recognizes and embraces this perception of reality, then it will have a strategic relevance that will go far beyond the United States, the European Union, or Ukraine. For it will be the only organization on the board seeing Russia as the Russians themselves see it. Once you have that vision there will be far many more diplomatic moves available.

Dr. Matthew Crosston is Vice Chairman of Modern Diplomacy and member of the Editorial Board at the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence.

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Potentials of cultural diplomacy in Iran- Belgium relations



Term ‘Diplomacy’ stands for guiding of relations between individuals, groups, and nations and it is one of political terms used in the field of international ties. Under current conditions in the world, rather than the subjects which have proposed on diplomatic discussion between various countries such as commercial relations and cultural and scientific ties, this concept plays important role in improvement of world peace and international security. Basically, diplomacy is an important tool for realization of national interests within political, economic, and cultural relations between nations and diplomacy requires for adaption of special and professional forms of interaction between agents of nations in various fields e.g. politics, trade, and cultural ties etc. so that it is discussed about political diplomacy, economic diplomacy, cultural diplomacy, and public diplomacy and the like.

The cultural diplomacy is deemed as one of the efficient and important techniques in relations between nations that aim to improve cultural, scientific and educational relations which will be consequently led to enhancement of political and economic relations as well. This type of diplomacy looks for deepening of cultural relations among the countries and improvement of relation and interdependence between them and upgrading of level of recognition and perception of various international environments and it is implemented through different tools such as educational and academic relations and holding of various conferences and academic communications, exchange of teacher and students, educational and researching cooperation, artistic exchanges (cinema and theatre etc.), games and sports, festivals and holding of book fair etc. and currently this type of diplomacy has devoted high capacity at the international arenas.

Principally, Iran and Belgium are two important and influential countries in both Asian and European continents and improvement of communication between these two countries may lead to strengthening of relations among Europe and Asia and the Middle East.

Due to geographic situation, high population (over 75 million), wide economic market, cultural and civilization potentials, and power for influence in Islamic world, Iran enjoys high potential effect in Asia, the Middle East, and Islamic world and at the same time Belgium is a country with approximately 11million peoples is also deemed highly important in Europe for the following reasons: Firstly, the presence of several wide road arteries, great ports and significant airports has converted Belgium into a transit hub at Europe; furthermore, this country enjoys the annual volume of foreign trade up to 700 billion Euros and possesses advanced industries including in the field of transportation etc. secondly, this country is the headquarter of European Union (EU) and the related institutes and for this reason it is called as European capital ‘ therefore, it highly influences in Europe EU. At third place, Belgium is presently the fifth trading partners for Iran among EU countries where the existing potentials can be developed.

The scientific and cultural cooperation is the complementary dimension for these potentials which may have synergic effect on relations between two countries and cultural diplomacy id the foremost tool in such communications. One of important examples of these potentials is the educational and researching relations between two countries as well as holding of joint meetings, conferences and workshops and exchanges of cultural and artistic products for which this diplomacy may prepare the ground for improvement of relations other cooperation fields. Accordingly, in addition to contribution to interests of both countries, such diplomacy can pave the way for more extensive relations among Europe and Iran and even under current conditions when the world suffers from insecurity, extremism, and terrorism, such scientific and cultural relations and interaction and communications between elites of two nations can contribute to creation of common perception of threats to which the world peace and symbiosis is exposed in order to strengthen moderate and peaceful discourses among Islamic world and the west.

First published in our partner Mehr News Agency

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Using science diplomacy in the South China Sea



Despite White House efforts to deny well-established climate change reports and U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, most might question the wisdom of laying down a science — led peace-building plan in the contested South China Sea disputes.


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The Art of Leadership and Diplomacy



Leadership is about effective communication, leading from the front, and bringing out the best in individuals according to their competencies. One more crucial characteristic that a leader must possess is the art of diplomacy.


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